Category Archives: self-centred

Entirely predictable existential crisis

My baby is going to kindergarten. I’ve been totally fine with that all the way to here. Not for me sentimental sniffling on turning in her registration. No tears at preschool graduation. We were all ready to move on. The world keeps on turning, you know, and you’ve got to keep up.

Yesterday we trundled up to the school for her intake test, or whatever it is they’re calling the tiny proto-entrance-exam thing they do now, where they see if they know their colours and their shapes and where they are on the learning-to-read continuum, ostensibly so that they can ensure an even spread of abilities across the four kindergarten classes.

The nice teacher began by asking Mabel how her summer had been, and Mabel replied with a slightly aggressive meow-growl. Which might not have been exactly what they’re looking for on the polite chatty scale, but she does tend to resort to animal impersonations when feeling shy. However, she went on to name all the things she was asked to name, to know all the sounds of the letters but not how to read the actual words, and to acquit us well by saying that her favourite book is a chapter book with an impressively long title.

But as we left I have to admit I felt a niggle. Just a tiny niggle of “Oh I hope she’ll be okay” and “They’d better see how amazing she is” and then that little wail of “What will I DOOOOO?” that I’ve been avoiding this whole time. I’m not planning on rushing out and getting a job with a commute and a dress code and all that jazz, but I really do need a plan for not just being a lady who lunches all day while my kids are at school. I have to bring in a few bob, like, for the sake of self respect and college funds and having something to live on in our old age and so on.

My plan, as it stands, is a vague one involving exercise (running or yoga or something), writing, and editing; the editing would earn a crust, the writing might if I could figure out some way to get paid for it. The exercise would stop me bursting out of my jeans and make up for all the muffins I’ll inevitably bake to go with all the cups of tea I’ll inevitably drink.

It’ll be a new era. I don’t think I want to think about it too much just yet.

Mabel standing in a window

Ready to leap



The older I get the more I see myself turning into my mother. As Oscar Wilde told us, it’s a tragic inevitability. When I look in the mirror I see her face framed by my hair; my body is the same shape – plus a couple of inches in height (and width; it’s only proportional); I hear her words coming out of my mouth disconcertingly often; I find myself sitting up straight and putting a fist in the small of my back exactly the way she always did, thanks to our apparently matching spinal malfunctions. (She always did say she had a short back.)

I suppose there are also some things about me that aren’t like my mother. I suppose I take after my Dad in some respects. I suppose my feet are his and my eyes are his and my hair is his mother’s and my myopia is my aunty’s and I’m not sure where my interest in cooking came from but maybe it’s just my own.

Even so, though. Every time I open my mouth and the wrong word comes out, as does happen now and then, I wonder if everyone does that when they’re not really paying attention because they’re doing three things at once, or if it’s the beginning of a certain fuzziness.

I haven’t said it out loud here before, but my mum has Alzheimer’s. It wasn’t early-onset or anything; she was diagnosed at about 79, though it did answer questions that I think had been raised quite a few years before that. Her father had it too. Of her four living siblings, she’s the first so far to follow him down that road. She’s still at home, with my dad, but she can’t drive any more and isn’t really safe to be left alone. My conversations with her nowadays are all pretty much in the present tense and usually work their way around to the same questions and answers in the space of about ten minutes. Then I get off the phone and go back to my easy life here, thousands of miles away, and leave my dad, with his own age-related problems, to look after her and deal with the daily frustrations and sadness of living with someone with advancing dementia.

Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Roll the dice. Write it down and take a picture before I forget.

Where I am

Something interesting is happening.

You may have noticed, maybe, if you keep tabs on me, but probably you don’t, that I’ve been posting less here lately. I was posting almost daily there for a while, filling this little space with words and words and words as if I’d explode with them. And then, poof! Not so much.

But you might know, or maybe you don’t, that it’s because at the moment I’m writing a lot for If you flip over to there on any given day you’ll probably find something from me, and some other things from some other great and hilarious and thought-provoking and well-informed writers. (When I say “other” there, I’m not including myself in all those adjectives. I am just sometimes faintly some of those things.)

I’m pretty sure that in a while things will re-balance, and I won’t have quite so much stuff streaming out of me and onto the screen over there, and then I’ll probably come back here a bit more often again. For the moment, I’m going with it and really enjoying the new platform and the new challenge and the different angle.

The interesting thing is that something has flipped and I am thinking of myself more as a writer. It’s given me a legitimacy, maybe, in my own mind, that a personal blog just didn’t. And I’m hoping that the re-balancing will include my writing more of the other things I’m theoretically working on. Because that’s what writers do, and I’m one of those.


Non-compact disc

Spine (and something else)

The one on the left. I don’t know what the one on the right is.

I suppose I have to update you on my back. It’s pretty boring, so feel free to skip it. I don’t think blogs about people’s minor health concerns are particularly interesting, unless by chance you happen to share that particular health concern. But maybe I’m wrong and you’re champing at the bit out there.

So I had an MRI and some neurologist tests and all the blood tests the doctor could think of, just in case there was, I don’t know, something he might find out by doing that. And I’ve been going to the chiropractor twice a week, where he cracks my back and pushes my legs around and I get buzzy electric massage and then he gives me some exercises to do.

My bloodwork is fine, the results of the neurologists’ tests were all perfectly normal, and his interpretation of the MRI was just what I already knew. I have a bulging (or herniated) disk between the two bottom vertebrae in my back. It’s impinging a little on a nerve on the left-hand side, so I could get pain down that leg. But so far, I don’t.

The neurologist talked about prescribing some sort of non-habit-forming painkillers, and I explained that I’ve yet to take as much as an Advil for the discomfort, so that’s jumping the gun. Mostly, I hope to keep it under control by working on my core so that my ab muscles can take up some of the slack and help my back stay up. Not flop over. Whatever it would do otherwise.

It’s a bit unnerving when someone tells you about the “visible degeneration” of your bones. It feels as if possibly the next step is death, because your bones will finally just crumble away and you’ll be gone. I do worry about how this is going to affect me as time goes on, because it’s not going away on its own, and I don’t know how fast it will get worse. Both the chiro and the neurologist said that many people with this level of – bulge, degeneration, whatever – would have a lot more pain than I do. So either I’ve a high pain threshold (um, I don’t think so) or I’m lucky, for now.

I do feel it, and I can’t really tell if I’m noticing it more now because I know it’s A Thing, or if it’s actually got worse in the past two months. I’m trying hard to sit up straighter and use my muscles to pull in my stomach and do the exercises, and that helps.

So I will use it as required to get out of lifting heavy objects and shovelling snow, but otherwise will hope it motivates me to work on my core and that I can just shut up about it from now on. I’m sure you hope that too.


photo credit: General Popó via photopin cc


I’m busy working on an exciting new venture that will be unveiled at a later point, but in the meantime, Office Mum interviewed me a little while ago, and you can read the results of that over here:

Office Mum stories – Maud of Awfully Chipper

Also, it’s snowing again, and I don’t really want to talk about it.

Life, apparently

Life, apparently, is about bringing the person I am closer to the person I want to be, or accepting the chasm between those two things.

For instance, I want to be a person who plans the week’s meals before she goes shopping, who makes family dinners in the crockpot, who runs or otherwise exercises regularly, and who damn well writes a few hundred words in That Other Thing when she sits down to do it.

Instead, I am a person who builds some sort of half-assed plan for dinner as she roams the supermarket, who casts about for inspiration an hour before dinner time, who runs (ahem) once every two weeks or so, and who comes over here and writes a blog post instead.

These are all things that are within my control. I can change them. Sure I can.

If I actually want to.

Geese in a blue sky

Conversation with my chiropractor

Him, chatty, while adjusting my spine, if that’s what that’s called: So, what’ll you do this morning?

Me, vaguely: Oh, do the shopping, go home, try to write something, maybe, sort of…

Him: So, are you writing a book?

Me: Well. No. I can’t say that. Well. I dunno.

Him: So you’re not?

Me: It’s just. It sounds so terribly presumptuous to say you’re writing a book, when you haven’t written it yet and you have no idea how it’s going to turn out or if anyone will want to see it…

Him: Mm hmm.

Me: So I can’t say that. But it would be terrible to get to the end of my life and say “I should have written a book, but I never did.” If I never even try, I definitely never will.

Him: That’s great! … Come back on Wednesday.


Milking my origins – my Listen To Your Mother audition

Let me tell you something: I sound horrible.

Okay, that’s a bit subjective. What I mean is, I hate my accent. I don’t hate that it’s Irish, or that it’s Dublin, or that it’s South Dublin; just that it’s some horrible accent I can’t even put a name on but that sounds just like this girl who was the year below me in school, who I always thought sounded poncy and annoying. (Or maybe she just was annoying. I wasn’t able to separate her from her accent.) The first time I heard myself on tape was SUCH a blow to the ego.

But I have accepted my accent and moved on, and I try hard to avoid hearing myself recorded, because from inside my head it sounds fine and I’m just going to continue to pretend that that’s what everyone else hears too.

(I’m pretty sure that what you sound like on a tape recorder is not exactly the same as what other people hear in real life, especially what I sounded like on a tape recorder in 1984, which is probably the last time I intentionally listened to my voice. But there are elements. Elements that you don’t hear from the inside but everyone else does. The way someone’s voice on the telephone – and I’m not talking about their telephone voice for talking to strangers that’s extra polite and/or assertive depending on the task at hand – someone’s voice on the phone sounds like them but not exactly like them. I imagine that’s the sort of difference there is between what I sound like on a recording device and what I sound like in real life.

Please do not disabuse me of any of these assumptions, even if they’re totally erroneous.)

ANYWAY, enormous digressions aside, that’s the thing. But when I decided to audition for Listen To Your Mother, I knew that my accent could be a point in my favour, because for whatever reason, many Americans love it. They love accents, full stop. (Period, I should say.) They love accents that are cute or sexy or exotic and that they can also understand pretty easily without squinting and tilting their heads and listening extra hard to figure out what it was you just said and what that means in American. So I had a bit of an unfair advantage, I figured; and I was willing to milk that as much as I could.

Which is not to say that I wrote and performed a piece in pure inner-city Brendan Behan-esque Dublin vernacular or put on my Lucky Charms accent and pretended to be from Wesht Cork. I just talked, and even though my Irish friends think I sound pretty American these days, and most Americans I know are used to me now so they don’t bother to remark on it, there’s enough there to be heard.

So I did that. The hardest part was (a) driving all the way to Gaithersburg, a mere 30 minutes away, (b) managing not to take a wrong turn where Google maps had not told me there was a turn at all, (c) arriving half an hour early without so much as a book to read (and my phone is not smart enough to be fun), and finally (d) not being able to find the right room at the last minute because the nice lady at the front desk had disappeared and room 37 was up the stairs and through two totally unmarked doors.

The easy part was meeting two lovely and very groomed women who greeted me kindly, let me sit down and de-stress, and listened to me read my piece. I galloped through it far too fast, in spite of all my best efforts, but they laughed in the right places and said “Aw” at the end, and (I’ll admit it) said they loved my accent.

So, that’s that done. There are more auditions next weekend and they won’t announce the cast until the 15th of the month. I really do believe them when they say that if I’m not picked it’s not because they didn’t like my story: they’re not putting together a volume of memoirs, they’re crafting a stage show, and it needs to have a certain arc of laughter and tears, light and dark, the strange and the familiar. I did what I wanted to do, that’s all.

So if you live in a city where there is a performance of Listen to Your Mother, if it’s something you’ve thought “I couldn’t possibly do that” about because really you’d love to but you think you’re not a big enough blogger; you’re not a blogger at all; you don’t have anything to say; you are too shy or too plain or too old or too young … yes, you can. Just do it anyway (though probably next year, at this stage). There’s no wrong way. It’s just reading your story to two nice women in a little room, and then you’ll know you did it. Whatever happens next is … beyond my control.

Squid sandwich (not actually a food post)

While on the outside, this week has been about snow, and concomitant school closings and late openings, on the inside for me it’s been about having a back problem. Not that my back is any more painful than it was last week or the week before – in fact, since that first visit to the chiropractor it’s been a lot less painful in bed at nights, and the rest of the time about the same; a twinge here, a nudge there, bending at the knees not the waist; doesn’t everyone’s back hurt when they sneeze?

No, I suppose everyone’s doesn’t, but this has just snuck up on me so gradually that it really felt pretty much normal. Not something I should be whining about and certainly not going looking for medical intervention over. The chiropractor and then the nurse at the MRI both asked had I done something to it – an accident, I suppose, is the most common reason why someone relatively young like myself (don’t shatter my illusions) would need such treatment. But there wasn’t anything. It just sort of wore on.

I didn’t think I was fretting about any of it overmuch, but the night before the MRI I had that classic anxiety dream that my teeth were falling out. I was brushing them vigorously and then I leaned over the sink and several enormous molars just popped out. I thought “This is a dream thing. Maybe I’m dreaming.” So I poked a tooth to see if it would wake me up and it didn’t. I was disappointed but not very surprised, and annoyed that now I’d have to go and see the dentist as well.

The MRI was fine, though it did go on for EVER – they made me as comfortable as I could be while lying on my back and I listened to NPR on the headphones, which was moderately distracting, and every now and then I’d feel my shoulders and hips tensing up and I’d have to consciously relax. The noise wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated after all the warnings from kind readers – I think if it’s an MRI on your head maybe it’s a lot louder.

Afterwards the tech showed me on the screen where the dark shape of my cartilage was pushed out on either side of the vertebrae in the affected area. I had been envisaging it like a sandwich with the jam pushing out on either side, but of course cartilage is solid stuff so it’s not dripping away into the rest of my interior; it’s just sitting there and maybe being squeezed a bit more as time goes on. I have no idea what they do with that, and so far I haven’t googled to find out. I’m sure someone will tell me soon enough.

B suggested I should envisage the cartilage more as a squid, but I said it would have to be one with no tentacles. So now I’m seeing the head of a squid sandwiched between my two wholewheat vertebrae and wondering if it would just break in two and drop off on either side at any point… but it’s probably connected to the bone better than that…

At least I still have all my teeth.

Back issues

Sometimes, like when I decided to move the blog – sorry about any broken links, by the way; still working on figuring out the redirects – I take action remarkably swiftly. Other times, not so much.

For instance, she said ominously:

I’ve had a vaguely sore back for a while. I put it down to carrying a heavy toddler, and bending the wrong way, and having children jump on my back for the pure hilarity of my reaction whenever I happened to be crouched down doing something, and all those things that you do in life. I certainly didn’t have a car accident or fall off a horse or crunch someone in a rugby tackle. I kept assuming it would wear off after a while. It would come and go and some days I’d be gingerly loading the dishwasher sideways because I couldn’t bend straight forwards and others I’d be fine. Lately it had taken the form of a sore back that would appear after a few hours in bed, bug me enough to wake me up and make me painfully change position, and make me hobble like an 80-year-old getting up in the morning. But by midday or sooner it would have worn off and I’d put off doing anything about it. Again.

When I had my annual doctor’s appointment in October or so I had mentioned it to the doctor. She was supremely unhelpful and said I could find some exercises to do for that on the internet. I basically ended up thinking that I was 40 now and maybe that’s just how life is. Or that maybe we need to buy one of those nice squishy mattresses that you can rest your wineglass on without fear of spillage while a rhinocerous jumps on the other side.

At some point – actually, I know exactly when it was; it was when we went to Ithaca last July – we drove past a building that said “Acupuncture, Chiropractor” and I wondered why those two would go together. In my mind, a chiropractor was a special and important and very wonderful type of doctor who did something that was not clear to me, while acupuncture was sticking needles into you, which might somehow help but was definitely on the alternative side of the medicine scale.

This set off a long train of thought that buzzed away in the back of my mind over months and months. I began to notice that the two types of practice often went together, and that chiropractors were definitely also in the “alternative medicine” box, in this country at least. Maybe it’s different in Ireland, but I know my parents used to speak in hushed tones of the revered chiropractor. (My mum had had a bad back many years ago, and my dad had a badly broken leg in 1971 that has given him pain on and off ever since.) I always assumed the chiropractor was just as much a doctor as a surgeon or anyone else in St Vincent’s would be. Maybe he was.

So it gradually began to dawn on me that maybe I should take my back to a chiropractor. But if they’re alternative, then does insurance pay for it? And will they dupe me? Maybe they’ll pretend to fix it but actually only partway fix it so that I have to keep coming back.

Eventually, I asked my local Facebook friends if anyone could recommend a chiropractor in the area. They could – several mentioned the same one. I put that at the back of my mind, because Ireland, and Christmas, and everything else. Every night in bed as I winced and rolled over, I would resolve to make the call the next day; every morning I’d put it off because now I was fine, and it’s not so bad, and I have an irrational disinclination towards making phone calls.

Finally, in my fit of proactivity on Wednesday, I called up, and they took my insurance details just like any regular doctor’s office and gave me an appointment the very next day.

Of course, Mabel decided that Thursday morning was the time to throw a fit about going to school, or staying for lunch, or whatever she could sling at me, and I was working so hard at promising her that I’d consider thinking about letting her skip lunch the next day that I left the house without my wallet. So when I’d hurriedly peeled her off me and left her wailing at the feet of her teacher, I was not only consumed by parental stress and guilt but also had to rush home to pick up my stuff before trying to get to the optimistically scheduled 9:15 appointment.

I got there only a few minutes late, filled out all the forms in the world, had some interesting tingly electric massage thing, talked to the lovely man about my back – feeling a bit of a fraud since on the 1-10 scale of pain I hadn’t called it more than a 3 at its worst (but then, as a friend pointed out, once you’ve given birth without an epidural, the pain scale sort of shifts and it’s hard to tell what’s considered bad) – and he did some interesting maneouvers on my hips. (Phwoar.) He also took some x-rays, just to make sure there wasn’t anything funny going on with my bones, and told me to come back this morning to discuss the results.

I wasn’t convinced anything useful had happened, because nothing felt any different. And then in the middle of the night I roused a little and wondered at my lack of pain. I wasn’t feeling anything. I turned over with the greatest of ease and not a wince in sight, and went happily back to sleep. When I woke up I got out of bed like a 20-year-old and did not have to creep in an elderly manner to the bathroom as I usually do.

“I’m cured!” I announced, with jazz hands.

So I went back to tell him he was a miracle worker, and he showed me my x-rays, which demonstrate an odd lack of cartilage between the bottom two lumps (technical term) of my spine. Not none at all, just much less than there is between the other ones.

“So, it hurts because there’s actually something wrong?” I felt somehow both vindicated and utterly amazed. How strange that my body manifests a problem with pain. Huh.

So  now I have to go have an MRI next week to see if I have a bulging disc or a herniated disc or I have no idea what else it might be but I probably shouldn’t google it. Ever had an MRI? What should I expect?

And I suppose I should have gone and done something about this sooner, but on the other hand I’m glad I did it eventually instead of just believing that once you’re 40 your back starts to go and there’s nothing you can do except maybe buy a new mattress and yell at the kids to get off your lawn.